My mom and Grandma. Two amazing Portuguese moms.
My grandparents sent my mother to America in 1959 to learn English, and then turn around, and come back to Portugal to work in the American Embassy.
As you can see from the date, on the picture, that didn’t happen.
And my mom (right) was busy doing things that I will always not only admire, but scarcely believe are possible, except in that my mom is proof. She got the opportunity to go to university in California, and she knew the tuition was expensive (though nothing at all like what it is now!!) so she went to work up in Sequoia National Park cleaning hotel rooms. A lot of foreign students worked up there; Mexican students, Japanese students, an Indian guy whom she still laughs about how funny he was, but how equally sure she was he had a wife somewhere in the Old Country.
So you’re wondering, how can anyone pay their entire tuition on cleaning hotel rooms? And Elsa, my mother, realized the same thing. So she summoned her courage and asked for a job in the poshy-posh restaurant. And she got it and spent her summers and weekends there for years.
Elsa! May I pleeeze have my ham and eggs now?
She even once served the great Leslie Caron. Caron’s family requested my mom day
after day, because she was the only one who was businesslike enough to not swoon and act like an imbecile in front of a Hollywood giant. That’s my mom; polite, kind, and she will take care of you because you deserve it, without being impressed by your star credentials.
She finally became a Spanish and French teacher in Easton, California. It was not an easy assignment at first; they gave her English students who were beyond remedial and the school seriously expected her, as a foreigner, to teach them to read. And to recognize grammar. And by golly, in the great tradition of her grandmother and great-grandmother who were English teachers, she did! She is the only foreigner I know who can accurately correct people’s English. She can sit there in front of the television, with a look of dismay, and correct grammar better than the ad campaign writers ever will. And she’s (arrrgh!) always frigging right! She also made sure I got my BA, even when it was hard for me to stay in school. And she has supported all of my Don Quixote career dreams.
My grandma (left) was amazing, too. She wasn’t allowed by her parents to attend high school. That sounds like child abuse, but you have to remember my grandma was born in 1907 in Portugal. It wasn’t that her parents were being cruel, or locking her in the basement until she was 30. It just wasn’t necessary to get a job at the time. Teachers at her primary school begged her parents to let her go, but her parents were concerned she would get a little too big-headed, since they had fourteen children, and none ever had gone, and everybody was doing just fine. So Grandma was sent to work. But my grandma, Irene, she didn’t last long at the factory without being moved up into bigger and bigger jobs. This was a woman who taught herself to read Spanish so she could read the “Great Books” that weren’t published yet in Portuguese. She ended up being what would be an equivalent of a day-to-day manager of an office of a German pharmaceutical company in Lisbon. A boy who was sweeping her offices began to drive her crazy at one point in the 50’s with rehearsing plays at work, and marched in with no more and got him a spot at the drama school in Lisbon. He now owns a world-class theater in Cascais. She finally did go to high school, and graduated weeks before I was born. There even was a streaker at her graduation.
All Grandma ever wanted for us- right there!
Both these women made their own way and made their childrens’ education the most important gift of their lives. I’m always grateful for all they’ve given me. Their strength inspires me to go on, to keep trying, to keep getting my work out there, even in this ridiculous economy, even with all the strikes I have against me. I come from great, strong, accomplished women who overcame much. I must do the same. I will. I have to.
I was going to write a funny post about my Portuguese mom feeding me too much, and how, I’m willing to bet, when I come home from her taking care of me after my surgery in June, I will be the first person to have surgery and gain 50 pounds of meaty muscle, but how could I do that when the strength and heart of my Portuguese mom has given me so much more than the meals have?
So it’s more important that I say “Thanks” to my two favorite Portuguese mothers, instead of laughing about the meat-obsessed quest of the Portuguese mom in stuffing the throat of her adult children like baby birds.
Thanks Mom for everything you did, and everything you do! I only hope someday that I really knock it out of the park. But I know you love me the way that I am. And thank you Grandma- I miss you more than anything, every day! Without your strength and your stories, I would have long given up. You keep me going. You both keep me going.
So now I go to call my mom, apologize for not calling earlier because I took a nap after class (I worked like 12 hours Saturday, gimme a break!) and thank her for all the pushing, all the grammar correcting, and all the love that like a circle, never ends.